i wrote this several evenings ago after completing William Faulkner’s “The Bear” again after a long time. i wrestled with posting it here, but i’m trying to be completely honest when i post, and this is me. When those special moments hit, i just write. It’s like getting up on waterskis for the first time, or getting to the point where you become confident snow skiing. A wonderful feeling. i don’t understand it, know it doesn’t happen to everyone. i think it’s close to Maslow’s level of self-actualization in his hierarchy of needs theory. But it doesn’t matter.
i thought a few of you might like it.
I am a renegade, a vagabond, a wanderer, a mariner.
Don’t know why, but i know such pursuits can play hell when one ages and becomes more sedentary. Still trying to figure it out. Plays with my mind when i still want to get up and go, but my get up has went. So i wrestle with that.
Recently, i’ve been away. Not down, just sort of reassessing where i am, what’s going on around me, thinking about what i am going to do the rest of my life. It’s something that seems to be occurring more frequently for me. I think it’s from what i’ve been since i left home about a half century ago: a renegade, a vagabond, a wanderer, a mariner.
That’s not bad. I’m 74 now, and i don’t have a job, which means i’ve got time to reassess and realign and change…well, maybe not change too much. But i keep writing, always come back to writing.
i don’t know why. Grammatically and editorially, i’m a mess. i’ve sort of lost the need for correctness. i find most “correctness” evasive. So i write. Gotta couple of books out there still in the works. Gonna get ’em done, and then i’ll probably quit. i like working around the house, playing golf, spending time with friends.
i am getting back to reading. There’s this bookshelf behind me full of books, i mean really full. i’ve read the majority of them, but those need to be reread, and there’s a whole bunch of classics i’ve promised myself to read before i go.
i’ve just been having a hard time staying with one. When i was a teenager until sometime around my second and career Navy period, i would read into the night, way into the night. At 127 Castle Heights Avenue, i would read under the covers in my bed with a flashlight until two or three in the morning. Read The Hobbit in one night (i think Joe gave it to me). Started around 7:30 and didn’t stop. Couldn’t stop. Read most of Faulkner and Warren in a fury. Their novels became my priority, and fit into every nook and corner of my life not filled with such trivial things as working, studying, even carousing. But i’ve sort of lost that and need to get it back.
Then about five months ago, our friends Pete and Nancy Toennies over a dinner decided we should start an exclusive book club, just the four of us, figured we wouldn’t get anyone trying to strut their stuff, just us and the books. We liked the idea. i thought it possibly could get me going on reading again. So i suggested William Faulkner’s “The Bear,” about a third of Faulkner’s book Go Down Moses. Most folks thought of it as a long short story, but ole Willie Boy told someone it was a seven-part novel.
Never figured that out. But i wanted to read “The Bear” again. Over about fifty years, i figure i’ve read it about ten times. But i confess, i was most entwined with the story of the bear hunt. Ike McCaslin, the primary figure in the story and the teenage boy in the hunt was my hero. In fact, my dog, or rather the dog for whom i was his human, the wild and magical Labrador was named Cass, short for McCaslin, Faulkner’s Ike.
But Maureen, Nancy, and Pete were more diligent than me, finishing before me. They weren’t enthralled. They spoke of the boring part of the family history intertwined with the tale of the hunt. It pretty much killed the idea of our exclusive book club.
So i put Go Down Moses on the coffee table and there it sat for about three months. i had read the good part, or rather the part about the hunt. I mean that is really cool stuff, and i haven’t been a real hunter since i shot that small bird with my Red Ryder BB rifle through the barbed wire fence on my great uncle’s farm around ’54, and sat there and cried as the bird, unreachable through the fence and the bramble, flapped furiously, then fluttered, then died. The great woodsman, ten years old, cried for a long time. But while reading past the hunt, i felt the magnificence, the connection with the earth and time eternal in that hunt. But when i got to the connections of a Mississippi family from a time long forgotten, i was a bit hesitant to resume. After all, i had other things to do.
But in my period of old age reflections, i actually picked up Go Down Moses sat in my “reading” place by the fire (where the infernal, dominating, glazed-eye producing flat screen could not be seen except by a contortionist, which i have never been and am absolutely the opposite now, whatever the opposite of a contortionist actually is).
So i sat down and read beyond Boon and Sam Feathers and Ike, the youth, and Lion, the cur dog, and Major de Spain and Ike’s older McCaslin cousin and the woods…no, the forest now long gone from a state we can no longer comprehend, and the land, like mine had been in my mind growing up, where the native ancestors lived and hunted, not as some have claimed in nobility but in human quest for survival until they corrupted the hunt into some ritual like we all eventually do and then the men from across the sea and over the Cumberland Gap came and brought their roaring sticks of killing fire and took the land, not because they were more or less noble, but because they had more firepower than bows and hatchets and then they brought people from Africa in bondage and the world changed forever and then the war of brothers again altered the state of that world and first, cotton began to take the land and the mixture of the old tribes, the slaves with darker skin, the plantation owners who had become rich and powerful, and the poor folk of fairer skin who did not fare as well as the plantation masters and those who cared for all humans had to deal with this strange liaison between these four elements of people and the intricate, complicated, and troubled relationships to reach a reasonable compromise in their minds and in their action which was as close to right as they could get, knowing they could never reach really right but abrogated their charge to keep seeking that right, gave up.
And ole Willie, sitting up in that stable loft with the haymow under and around him with his bottle of Lem Motlow’s uncle Jack to be sipped out of that self-same square bottle during contemplation, caught me again. He seemed to have captured, maybe even originated my thoughts about living, the land, the South.
I realized my wife and my friends could not be enamored of the whole of “The Bear.” Their worlds were not embroiled with the noble land in that Southern corner. For me, there is this Southern thing holding sway; Willie captivating me as no other, not even Robert Penn, driving me away from my writings, holding my soul in his custody like a jail keeper.
And in echo of a long, long time ago, i could not put it down: the very part i had skipped before, not recalled as i recommended the reading, loving the story of the hunt but enchanted, enraptured by the flow, the complexity, even the boredom of the twists and turns of family heritage, the history of those four elements of human struggling to be…well, be human, not just human but the appointed part of human separating us from the others. Humanity struggling to be at its finest but failing, always falling a bit short so that trying, establishing routines, traditions to not be broken, not bowing to change or newfangled disruption, no, not disruption, destruction of the land from which we came, maybe not originally but which had grabbed us and fostered roots to that very land, which is gone, long gone, soon to be in only written recollection of folks, even me, long gone.
And so i will read again. Willie once more: The Fable; Sanctuary; The Unvanquished; As I Lay Dying; The Snopes trilogy, The Hamlet, The Town, The Mansion; Light In August; Absalom, Absalom; maybe not all, but the very sound of the titles drive me toward him now.
And then, ther reading will follow. Since my Navy days, i have had difficulty sticking to one thing: too many things to do and not enough time. Trying to get all done. Just like the Navy. Tours too short to get things done. Operations, crises, orders from on high. A curse. My father, a product of the very thing ole Willie was capturing on that pad of paper up in that stable loft: a Southern thing; folks driven by their fate of being born and raised on the Southern land ruling their lives, their own fate with an undeniable surety, the will of that self-same land that refused to give in, but now splattered with fields, then manufacturing plants, and even more recently houses of the development men has given way, only existing in designated, appointed parks, like wild animals in zoo cages, regardless of what they call them, regardless of the noble intent to save that wildness, to nurture the nature of the wild even as it disappears before our onslaught of “civilization,” cities, and edifices of steel and concrete and ribbons of roads with exits where no roads, yay verily even no sign of man used to be, seemed to have gotten most of his things done, near a hundred he lived finishing things, following the creed of the land turned mechanical while i start only to be confronted with another change, another requirement to meet someone’s need, perhaps mine, but not quite getting there, moving on.
But now, i have accepted sedentary even though i am not yet branded. Still moving about, still seeking things although most of those “things” are elusive, never to see completion. But now corners of sedentary are sneaking in with the stiffness in the morning, the wobbling feeling of imbalance as i try to steady myself on the path. And i have carved out a time to quit writing my five books and never-ending posts, and putting the yard, the house maintenance, projects in a state of lower priority. To give up trying to find something worthy in our government systems or some semblance of what i termed good journalism long ago no longer existing on that flat screen monster dominating the lived-in room or a show or series or movie that does not curry attention with violence, sex, macabre, or even athletic events now more titillating entertainment than sport.
And i turned that chair away from the flat screen invader of my tranquility, and faced the fire in the hearth, oh that the chair was of the rocking variety, and i will read. Perhaps a half hour, perhaps all night if the next page keeps calling, but it will take my soul for a while.
I don’t think i’ll get to the new stuff, so superbly marketed and refined to attract the audience by the publishers, editors, even agents who serve to sell for their clients and the industry rather than curiosity of the written word, which i believe every real writer desires.
Oh, i’ll read my kin’s stuff, and perhaps some reads about things i hold dear like back home or the Navy. My sister-in-law’s novels are always a good read. Really don’t have any problem with what’s being written. But most of my reading will be from those shelves in my office holding old, tried and true stuff like Faulkner, like Warren, like Hemmingway, like Graham Greene, like Doctorow, like Wordsworth.
Perhaps, just perhaps, this prism of time going back to my youth and my quest to read will even take me back to that land and the people, those four elements of entwined humanity in the South, the land that claimed us, and gave us more humanity folks nowadays cannot understand as they try to make all perfect, at least from their very narrow, slanted point of view, rather than to seek understanding and humanity among men: that’s inclusive before some gnat of a tender soul finds it misogynist when no intent to exclude, defame, or place anyone of any gender or preference on a lower status exists.
Yeh, put that all behind. Read. Old stuff. Good stuff. Literary. And fill my destiny with a routine, which probably should have been my pursuit all along.
Thanks, Mr. Faulkner.